I returned three weeks ago and walked the streets like a ghost. Seen but unrecognized, unclaimed, by the excited and fresh faced groups of new students hurrying down the stone streets, and the small gatherings of animated locals draped leisurely in the doorway of every bar and restaurant. It’s an amazingly free feeling, to wander the streets of a city that is not-quite home, but the place where you’ve chosen to rest your head and heart for now. A pair of girls hurried past me in the opposite direction, their status revealed by those tell-tale backpacks and college sweatshirts long before I even heard the tail end of a passing sentence in English. They didn’t pay me a second glance, even as I turned so slightly to watch their progress down Avenida de la Constitución.
Funny, and in fact rather strange, how clearly I remember being those girls just a few short months ago. I remember arriving in the city for the first time, struggling to orient myself against the bridges and the swirling green river, and failing as my focus left me; my hands and face were pressed against the smudged bus windows, staring at the palm trees and golden bricks of this strange new city. I remember my first trip down that main avenue, and the second and third one after that, and how I could never shake the feeling that I was walking through some impressive movie set and not a city in its own right. It was a combined effect of the colors being too bright, the flowers too beautiful, a sunny street lined by perfectly antique and balconied apartments and dotted by palm and orange trees. It was the most surreal place I had ever been, the furthest physical place I ever stood from every experience I had come to know, and there yet there I was: Staring, slack jawed and amazed, down this impossible and entirely real avenue.
I had once adopted their same hurried stride and excited tone, back when every outing into this strange new city was an event to be anticipated, and something as simple as buying a new toothbrush managed to hold some aura of excitement and discovery. I’m sure my English used to draw attention, and that my UMass sweatshirt may have turned some well-groomed Spanish heads and stood out in such a vast sea of fashionably dressed Sevillanos.
Ever so slowly, over the course of my first three months in the city, these were the things about me that were changed, and shed, a slow metamorphosis into the girl who returned three weeks ago. The ghost girl, the one who came back. This ghost girl belongs to no one but herself, owes no obligation to anything except the path her feet beat out on the cobblestoned streets. Each day she leaves her home, revelling in the wonderful sights and sounds of this old and sunny place, and curious as to where the twisted and shady streets will lead her today. She smiles easily at Spaniards and foreigners alike, content to be alive and fantastically independent. She stops for coffee and likes the way the breeze tickles her hair, and she pets both dogs and cats as they pass her in the streets. This city has changed her, molded her, freed her, and though it knows it cannot ever claim her, over the months it has slowly and lovingly carved out a place to guard a piece of her heart, and a reason to come back.
The two girls turned a corner and disappeared. My gaze returned forward and wandered up the walls of the Cathedral to my side. My eyes stopped to rest on a single, quiet pigeon nestled behind the shoulder of one of the statues adorning the walls. “Hi. Hello, pigeon” I whispered and the bird cooed softly in greeting and launched into the air above me.